Helplinge: The Happiness Makers of Berlin
When waves of refugees began to flood Berlin, the government had no real plan on how to deal with this influx of life into the city. Everything was done ‘ad hoc,’ since nobody was prepared for a situation like the one we witnessed this summer. Massive numbers of people ended up in camps with government doing all they could - but slowly - to provide them with a safe refuge.
Not waiting for a miracle to happen, citizens of Berlin - both domestic and international - showed that this city has a warm soul. They started helping refugees on their own, providing them with clothes, food, flat shares, and various other services. Such initiatives were usually created on random meetings of friends, who - each with their own history and reasons - wanted to support thousands of newcomers in their city.
The problem was that great deal of those ideas never materialized. The reasons are quite simple. There was a vacuum between those who needed help, and those who wanted, but didn’t know how to help. In other words, people who had resources or knowledge faced the problem of finding the right way to deliver it to Berlin’s refugees. Even finding the addresses of camps online proved difficult.
On September 3, 2015, a group of 7 friends got together for dinner and a new idea was born - the idea of overcoming the gap between those in need and those who want to help. Realizing that the situation would not end overnight, they decided that Berlin needed a more systematic approach to the issue. Arman, Ruha, Nassim, Hesam, Mohsen, Helena and Samira are all Farsi speakers, but come from different educational backgrounds, which allows them to approach problems from several different angles.
The difference between talking and doing is a practical approach. Theory has to be tested to be proven good or bad.
The first thing young people do these days when they want to implement the idea is take it online. They created a Facebook group initially named ’one for all and all for one,’ but quickly renamed it to Helplinge. Now, the group has more than 1,800 members.
Still without a clear vision, and armed with experience of only one member, who had started visiting camps on her own, they went to the Rathaus Wilmersdorf at Fehrbelliner Platz, which had been turned into a refugee camp.
|A picnic in summer.|
Their first time there didn’t end up quite as expected. It was a short stay because they were ‘politely’ asked to leave. Bringing a camera didn’t help their case either, even though there was no signs forbidding them. They did not have appropriate authorization and nobody knew them. Still, they didn’t give up. They tried again, and once they managed to explain their intentions, they were reluctantly accepted.
The fact that they are Farsi speakers helped them to build the trust with refugees from the camp. They easily communicated with them and could have understand their problems, without risking important things being ‘lost in translation’. After interacting with refugees, the Helplinge team realized that they were not lacking in material goods but rather in social gatherings and connections.
Without further thinking how to do what, they took some children from the camp on a small trip to the zoo. It all went well and they decided to repeat it with a picnic. After they saw how happy the kids were, their visits to the camp started happening on a regular basis.
Their initial idea soon outgrew itself and before they even realized it, they needed to make a new plan. Creative as they are, they started piling up the possibilities.
To be fair, some things happened spontaneously. On one occasion, a member of Helplinge brought a traditional Irani percussion instrument – a Daf – and started playing. They couldn’t believe the impact of music on people inside of the camp. Everyone started to dance. That moment sparked another idea – organizing Saturday party on a regular basis. The first time they rented the speakers, but lack of resources would have prevented them from doing so every week.
The Helplinge overcame this financial obstacle via cooperation with the Betterplace – Germany’s largest donation platform, which they used for help with promotion and fundraising. They are using the money that they collect to purchase everything they need for the events they are organizing. Such was the case with speakers and now the parties at the camp are on a regular basis.
Saturday parties at camp are just one of the many things Helplinge offers newcomers to Berlin. They also organize are visits to museums, Legoland, concerts, Betahaus, picnics, and Halloween parties, on which they spend roughly €100-150 a week.
Now, the initial team has expanded to 10 members, including an Arabic speaker. Everything is done on a voluntary basis with help from many other Berliners.
Lately, Helplinge has focused efforts on promoting gender equality at refugee camps, with increasing success. They are also trying to show talented individuals to the outside world and present various opportunities to them - among the brightest examples is a young girl who appeared in the Deutsches Theater. Several other refugees from the camp also participate in cultural and educational projects throughout berlin.
Although the majority of their activities is focused on the center at Wilmersdorf Hilft, the team has also managed to visit several other camps. Their goal is to host successful events in each camp in Berlin.
It’s not going to be an easy job, but with the creativity and skills of these guys, and support of Berliners, I’m certain that Helplinge will continue to grow and serve our community.
By Alen Tabaković